“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Going to the store

Hypothetical question (its hypothetical nature will be explained later): A grocery store is located 3 miles from my door with a level path. I need groceries that will fit in a single bag. How much fossil fuel is used, ALL INPUTS CONSIDERED, if I: walk; ride a bicycle; take an electric scooter; drive a smart fortwo; drive my LR3 HSE. I'll assume the two gasoline vehicles are warmed up.

As is typical, I'll be making estimates, but I doubt that the order will be wrong. Let's start with walking. Assuming I walk at 3 m.p.h., it will take 120 minutes to walk to the store and back. Using this calculator, I find that I'll convert 491 kilocalories of food energy to heat (the site calls them calories but this is incorrect). Now, it is said that 7 to 10 kilocalories of fossil fuel energy are required to produce a kilocalorie of food. I'll use 8.5, so 8.5*491=4170 kilocalories or 17.5*10^6 joules of fossil fuel energy to get me to the store and back.

How about a bicycle? Using the very nice calculator here and assuming I ride at 10 m.p.h. (faster on the way there, slower on the way back), I find I'll burn 162 kilocalories of food energy requiring 8.5*162=1377 kilocalories or 5.76*10^6 joules of fossil fuel energy.

Looking at the electric scooter, I'll use the Zapino (previously posted about here) as my representative. The optional 60 volt, 40 amp-hour Lithium battery supposedly gives it a range of "about 65 miles." Now, 60 volts at 40 amps for an hour is 8.64*10^6 joules but I would think the range would be based on, say, 80% discharge. So that means it uses 8.64*10^6*0.8/65=106,000 joules/mile and my 6 mile trip would use 638,000 joules. But wait. The charger would only be about 85% efficient and transmission of electricity is typically about 60% efficient. So I'll use 638,000/(0.85*0.6)=1.25*10^6 joules of electricity from the generating station. Are we done? No, this electricity is likely generated by a fossil fuel plant whose efficiency is on the order of 50%, so double that to 2.50*10^6 joules of primary fossil fuel energy. Finally, using an EROEI (energy return on energy invested) of 7.5:1, we multiply 2.50*10^6*8.5/7.5 to find that it requires 2.83*10^6 joules of primary fossil fuel energy in total to go to the store and back.

The smart fortwo about which I posted here? Certainly this will be city driving where the fortwo is listed by the EPA at 33 m.p.g. A nice little article singing the Tesla's praises gives me the "well to wheel" data I need. Without bothering my patient readers with the conversions and calculations, I find that the fortwo uses 28.9*10^6 joules of primary energy (including well to pump to wheel efficiency) to accomplish the mission. It should be noted that a "hypermiler" could likely do significantly better.

Finally, the LR3 HSE (with me driving it) will achieve about 17.6 m.p.g. in the city and thus uses 54.2*10^6 joules of primary energy to go to the store. So the electric scooter is the best, using about 5% of the energy of the LR3. Surprisingly, the bicycle uses twice as much energy (remember, all fuel inputs to food production are included and no distinction is made for vegetarian versus omnivorous diet, so your mileage may vary) as the scooter and walking even more. I may have to revisit the scooter yet again. And why is the question hypothetical? It's down a long and steep hill from my house to the store and, more importantly, up that long and steep hill to get back.

To recap:

Electric Scooter: 2.83*10^6 joules

Bicycle: 5.76*10^6 joules

Walking: 17.5*10^6 joules

smart fortwo: 28.9*10^6 joules

Land Rover LR3 HSE: 54.2*10^6 joules

Update: A very interesting analysis of the bicycle versus electric bicycle (scooter) energy requirements that includes life-cycle energy consideration done as a term paper is available here.

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